NGOs win historic victory against French State for failing to tackle climate change

NGOs win historic victory against French State for failing to tackle climate change

Wednesday 3rd February 2021

  • Court battle backed by 2.34 million people – largest petition in French history 
  • Landmark case will pile pressure on other governments to act faster 

A landmark ruling today has found the French State at fault for failing to take enough action to tackle the climate crisis. The decision by the French court will serve as a warning to other governments to do more to reduce carbon emissions in line with their public commitments, said Oxfam France, a plaintiff in the case.

In December 2018, Oxfam France, Notre Affaire à Tous, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Greenpeace France launched a legal action against the French State for failing to reduce the country’s emissions fast enough to meet its commitments. More than 2.3 million people signed a petition supporting the action – the largest in French history. 

It is the first time the French State has been taken to court over its responsibility on climate change. Today’s decision leaves the government open to compensation claims from French citizens who have suffered climate-related damage, and could force it to take further steps to reduce its emissions.

Cécile Duflot, Executive Director of Oxfam France, said: “Today’s decision is a historic victory for climate justice. For the first time, a French court has ruled that the State can be held responsible for its climate commitments. This sets an important legal precedent and can be used by people affected by the climate crisis to defend their rights. This is a source of hope for the millions of French people who demanded legal action, and for all of those who continue to fight for climate justice around the world. It is also a timely reminder to all governments that actions speak louder than words.” 

The ruling comes as many countries are preparing more ambitious targets to reduce emissions, as required by the Paris Agreement. Governments are due to meet in Scotland later this year for the COP26 climate summit. Scientists and NGOs say the targets already announced – known as Nationally Determined Contributions – fall short of the cuts needed to avoid catastrophic global warming. 

The French government’s proposed climate law is, by its own admission, not enough to achieve its target of cutting emissions 40 percent by 2030. Even this target is not enough to put the country on track to tackle the climate crisis, Oxfam France said. 

This decision also serves as a timely reminder to all European governments and the European Commission to take their international commitments seriously and to lead in the fight against the climate crisis. The current EU climate target of a 55 percent cut to emissions is ambitious, but still falls short of what is needed to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C. 

Michael McCarthy Flynn, Head of Policy and Advocacy with Oxfam Ireland said: "Our own Supreme Court has already put the Irish Government on notice for failing to take adequate action on climate change, in a similar case. 

“Climate Case Ireland is the first case of its kind in Ireland and only the second case in the world in which the highest national court of law has required a Government to revise its national climate policy in light of its legal obligations. 

“It is essential that the new Climate Change Bill currently going through the Oireachtas is robust enough to ensure Ireland delivers faster and fair climate action."

The French State has two months to appeal the court’s decision. While the four NGOs have asked the court to order the State to take additional measures to fulfill its climate commitments, the court decided to reserve its decision on this point for later in the Spring, to allow for further discussions between the French State and the NGOs. 

Duflot concluded: “Following today’s breakthrough, we now hope the courts will compel the Government to take further steps to reduce emissions and ensure that France is living up to its commitments.”

Oxfam launched the legal action because the climate crisis is fuelling poverty, hunger and inequality around the world. Often it is the poorest countries that have contributed least to the crisis that pay the highest price. In September 2020, Oxfam revealed that the richest one percent of people produce more than double the emissions of the poorest half of the world population combined. 

Ends

To arrange an interview with an Oxfam spokesperson, please contact:

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165

Notes to the Editor:

  • In June 2020 Climate Case Ireland/ Friends of the Irish Environment took the Irish Government to the Supreme Court for failing to take adequate action on climate change – and won. For more information on Climate Case Ireland see https://www.climatecaseireland.ie/
  • In December 2020, EU leaders agreed on a new EU emissions reduction target of ‘at least 55 percent’ below 1990 levels by 2030. Oxfam estimates that cuts of more than 65 percent are needed for Europe to contribute its fair share of global emissions cuts needed to limit global heating to 1.5C.
  • This case in France follows a similar ruling in the Netherlands in 2019, in which the Supreme Court ordered the government to ramp up its emissions reduction target. There is also a similar case coming up in a Belgian court to enforce more ambitious climate policies. The number of climate litigation cases has doubled since 2017, according to a recent report by the UN Environment Program. As of July 2020, at least 1,550 climate change cases had been filed in 38 countries. 
  • Oxfam’s report in September 2020, Confronting Carbon Inequality, found that the richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the poorest 3.1 billion people during a critical 25-year period of emissions growth. 
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